It's no secret to anyone that knows me - I don't really like the holidays. Oh, sure the lights on my street look beautiful, and I enjoy special treats and time with family, not to mention my favourite Bing Crosby movie, but overall, the season can be very tense. Especially now that I have two families to visit, to shop for, and to share my time with, I find the lead up to be full of stress, and the day itself to end with a major let down. All that time, that money, that work and in a matter of hours, its over. As I think about how to make the time more special and full of love for my own little family of three this year, I identified the four major stressors that make me most unhappy this time of year; the lack of time, the pressure of family, the expense, and the lack of daylight. Well, daylight I can't do much about, but the other three I plan to mitigate as much as possible. Here are my strategies for a merrier Christmas:
As discussed in my article about budgeting, I have set a clear and definite amount of money I am able and willing to spend on gifts this year. I have been listening to tips and hints that my family have been dropping on their wants and needs, and am focusing on thoughtful presents that I can buy within those constraints. I saved and I planned what my son will need in the coming months, and have also shared this list with my family so they know how to best gift us as well.
Beyond this, I am focusing on the spirit of the holidays that do not cost money. In the spirit of giving, we are going to make a small donation to the food bank. We are making a trip to the library to pick some holiday themed books to read on the night before and morning of Christmas. We will lovingly unpack the ornaments we have acquired over the years, remembering why each one is special with a cup of egg nog. We will spend time with our loved ones, sharing memories and games that make us happy.
But loved ones though they may be, they can also cause us anxiety. Whether it be guilt from a lack of time together, stress over gift expectations, or other common problems, it can be hard to strike a balance in our increasingly blended and extended families. You can never fully alleviate this, but you can be honest with your feelings, which goes a long way.
And start early. My husband's family lives across the country. We knew we couldn't be in two places at once, and historically our every-other-year system had us home for this season. With a young baby and my sister's new bundle to enjoy as well, we addressed this in the fall. We agreed that my in-laws could visit us here early December, and that we could have a nice long video call on Christmas Day. A fair compromise to which everyone agreed. Have a straight forward conversation about your limitations; financial or otherwise, and people will understand.
It is a limited resource at any time of the year, but it really seems to slip through your fingers immediately following Hallowe'en. There are parties to attend, shopping to do, baking and decorating... does the list ever end? You have to define a line for yourself; you have to know when to create the time and what you can eliminate from your list.
For myself, I love to bake, but the mess and potential danger with an active baby is a huge panic I have chosen to avoid. A family friend of mine has created a side business baking for the hoildays. For a reasonable price, I'm getting a tray of a variety of home baked cookies delivered to my home. I get all the benefit of the goodies without the dishes! The added benefit is the support of my friends' own holiday goals. Whether you call in a pinch hitter to wrap for you, make your dinner pot luck, or just don't bother with a tree, find a way to unburden yourself of something.
The spirit of the season can get so easily marred by the whirlwind that is the holidays. You really do have to pause, regroup and focus what really matters. Create memories and traditions that give you something to look forward to and look back on down the road. From my childhood, I think of decorating the tree with my sisters and our own personal bells, watching A Christmas Carol with my dad, and constructing the perfect trifle with my mom. I can't wait to share a future of new memories with the best reason to be happy this year.